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Russell Shepard latest Buc to become an essential player for team

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One of the highlights of the two-game winning streak of the Tampa Bay Bucs has been the emergence of unheralded players.

Over the past two games, the Bucs have had major impacts from Jacquizz Rodgers, from Davonte Lambert and from John Hughes.

And now, there is Russell Shepard.

Shepard, normally a special teams standout for the Bucs, found himself thrust into the playing rotation after the injury to Vincent Jackson. Shepard, who had only seven catches in his first three seasons, ended up with five receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.

“That’s real important and every week when I’m talking to the guys in one meeting or another, we’re talking about playing your role and then that your role is always changing,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “Roles change all the time, Russell Shepard’s role changed last week. He went from a six-play a game guy on offense to a 30 play a game guy on offense. I don’t think people appreciate role players.”

Koetter said that Shepard might be the most versatile player on the Bucs.

“That’s a strong case,” Koetter said. “He does a lot for us, he wears a lot of hats and if he had his way, he’s be wearing more hats. He’s asking for everything. He’d like to throw it, catch it, run with it, tackle it, kick it. But no, he’s a versatile guy. High school quarterback went to LSU there and Shep brings a certain presence to our locker room. He’s very vocal and guys that are vocal and can back it up with good play are always welcome in your locker room.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken praised Shepard, but he stopped short of calling him underrated.

“I don’t know about underrated,” Monken said. “This week I know he had a tremendous game for us and I’m happy for him, he’s worked awfully hard, he’s earned everything in this league. So for him to come up big with a number of plays, I’m happy for him – what that meant to him, what it meant to our team.

Quarterback Jameis Winston echoed Monken in stressing Shepard’s importance.

“He does so much for this team that people don’t see, like he’s our top special teams guy,” Winston said. “He even gets catches with the wide receiver all the time. He’s one of our main guys, period. He’s a hard worker, he has tremendous heart, he has tremendous passion and that’s one thing that you can say about Shep. He’s different and when you’re different, that makes you successful. He’s just a great player for us, he’s one of our main guys.”

Shepard said his willingness to do anything has helped him with the Bucs.

“I take pride in doing the dirty work,” Shepard said. “I take pride in doing the things that most receivers don’t usually do, or have to do. When you can do things like that and help the team…I’ve had a few different teammates throughout the years, a few different staffs, and they really like receivers that can get in there and do a little bit of the dirty work. You start adding in passes and things like that, that’s when you kind of get the ‘blowing-up’ thing.

The Bucs try to bring their record to above .500 when they host the Oakland Raiders Sunday.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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